More than 50 people in Zambia died in mob violence in response to a spate of poison spray attacks, President Edgar Lungu said, blaming church leaders for encouraging some reprisals.
The chemical attacks began in December and were initially confined to the Copperbelt but spread to the capital Lusaka.
Twenty-six people were arrested under suspicion of involvement but police still have to pinpoint the motive and exact number of victims.
In a speech to parliament, Lungu said some church and traditional leaders incited mobs to assault people suspected of being involved in the attacks. Many Zambians are angered by what they perceive as inadequate police response by.
Lungu said after the arrests in connection with the chemical attacks the situation improved.
Some people were now targeting rural areas spreading false information about the attacks to instigate mob violence, he said.
“We witnessed merciless killings. We witnessed equally merciless reactions,” Lungu said after parliament observed a moment of silence for the victims.
Lungu did not name church leaders he believed responsible for the reprisals, but pentecostal pastor Jones Chiyana of the Lusaka-based New Life Assembly Church said anyone involved was not genuine.
“If a church person is involved they are using the church to conceal their true identity. The church is for justice,” Chiyana told Reuters.
The president was considering establishing a commission of inquiry to explain the chemical attacks and mob killings, a move pastor Chiyana said would be welcome.